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applause, please

Michael Wrycraft has designed nearly 700 album covers in his career.

With the series Applause, Please, The Globe and Mail recognizes the efforts of dedicated citizens and those behind the scenes who make a difference in arts and cultural programs and institutions.

"I'm okay with the whole leg thing."

The "whole leg thing" to which Michael Wrycraft refers is the amputation of both of them, above the knees. This summer, the diabetic Wrycraft lost his lower limbs to osteomyelitis. In a cruel, ironic twist lost on no one, including Wrycraft, the unsinkable optimist and quintessential can't-keep-a-good-man-down kind of guy will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

A graphic designer by trade, the Toronto-based Wrycraft has long been a loquacious force and buoyant presence on the Canadian roots-music scene. Under the name "A Man Called Wrycraft," he has designed nearly 700 album covers over the past 28 years, earning one Juno Award and five nominations for his artful flair. For years, he emceed at major folk festivals and he still holds well-attended singer-songwriter tribute nights at the Toronto folk club Hugh's Room.

Unfortunately, Hugh's Room is anything but wheelchair-friendly – "a festival of staircases," Wrycraft quips – and the big folk-festival stages are undertakings of the near-Himalayan kind. But while some of his beloved activities have been curtailed, Wrycraft, 61, is steadfastly untroubled.

"I'm not shaking my fists at the world," he tells The Globe and Mail.

"None of this affects the best part of me – my humour, my optimism."

Neither has Wrycraft's album-illustration work been deterred. His handiwork is represented on Bruce Cockburn's latest album, Bone on Bone, his eighth LP for the legendary musician. "I make him laugh," Wrycraft says of his relationship with Cockburn, an artist, by the way, not as unsmiling as his reputation would have it.

"Michael is creative and talented and I love his work," says Bernie Finkelstein, True North Records founder and long-time manager of Cockburn. "But on top of all that, he's a load of fun to work with."

Wrycraft's weekly shows on bluesandrootsradio.com were suspended temporarily during the summer, but in the latter part of a long bedridden stint he had his recording equipment brought to the hospital.

And so, Wrycraft's career moves forward, wheeled now instead of walked, the man's spirit remarkably unscathed. "I'm still a 10-year-old in art class, playing all day long," he says, referring to his career. "It's very difficult for me to find misery."

Know of an unsung arts and culture hero who deserves wider acclaim? Send suggestions to bwheeler@globeandmail.com

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